A fine site

More than a stitch


It’s stitch number 600 and I’ve never attempted such an overwhelming project before. I’m a person who is usually addicted to cables, most often completed in greys and mauves so this number of stitches and a fresh colour choice and complicated pattern pose a challenge.

I’ve begun a shawl in blackberry, sand and bobby blue colours, so named on the order form, in silky merino malabrigo wool. Fortunately colour facsimiles accompany the name of the colours although they can never be totally trusted. It’s expensive yarn, but my best friend rarely stops rolling her eyes, complaining at the monotone and dull colours I select for my clothes and my endless knitting projects. “OK, I like basic, “ I demure, imagining the flexibility of commandeering colours that coalesce well with most clothes. I think of the word “ elegant” to describe my selection. She thinks, “ boring.”

However, in spite of the daunting colour combination of blackberry, sand and bobby blue, in total , there are 647 stitches on my round needle and I am learning the brioche stitch, repetitive patterning and eye tiring. In my head, I am recalling another adventure in knitting when the ends of the wooden round needle came apart, releasing 200 or so stitches into my lap. I cannot image recapturing these 647 loops and replacing them correctly in sequence back on the needle. So with each successful completed row in this endeavour, I utter a silent prayer in my head. But, I have to complete 29 more rounds in brioche in the sand colour, and end with four more rows of edging, then bind off in blackberry before I can block this gigantic piece.

It is a complex pattern that has grown from just four stitches gradually; I’ve had to learn a new and interesting way to increase by adding yarn- overs between originally existing stitches in contrasting colours. These vibrant colours excite my artist’s eye and the contrast of blackberry, really a deep mulberry purple, with the golden sand looks very pretty. In truth, purple and yellow, the colours of Easter, are complements on the colour wheel, naturally working together. However, when the almost turquoise blue with its never ending star pattern joins the mix, I start to experience a bit of discomfort at the visual cacophony I’m beginning create: so different to my sedate monochromatic preferences. I shush the voices in my head, reminding myself that I need to see the overall picture when I’m done and that yes, although purple and yellow look great together, the neighbouring blue beside that shade of so-called blackberry maybe does look quite fine.

As if to assuage my wonder at the new colour combinations, I experience an revelation, for I suddenly remember my mother knitting. Her works were legend, and tucked in tissue paper in my closet are the Humpty Dumpty and Three Bears sweaters knit for my children: I hold them captive for grandchildren before the moths discover them first. My children once wearing these unique sweaters would stop people in the street and more than once, I ran to search for a payphone, to communicate the startling effect that prompted complete strangers to express their excitement at my mother’s talent.

But many years before my mother’s creation of these tiny perfect confections- with even Goldilocks fleeing across the the bears’ beds- I had been invited to a bar mitzvah and with an eight week lead time ( when the invitation arrived), we had chosen a Chanel- like suit for her to create in wool. There was a wonderful pleated skirt that matched a perfect boxy double- breasted jacket, all trimmed in white angora. As a child and adolescent, I must have been delighted by bright colours , for I had selected a cherry red. I warm to it still in my mind’s eye. Day after day, I recalled, tightly fixing my eyes on my mother, positioned over her craft, I, observing her after long hours of exhaustive work, and praying the project would be completed on time. I was sure to be the envy of all the other girls, their outfits bought from Eaton’s or Simpson’s ( in Toronto) . I would dazzle all.

But, my present day epiphany I recognized only now: that she was using the brioche stitch, the one prescribed for my outrageously coloured 647 stitches of shawl. And although over the years, she was my knitting mentor, my teacher, my guide, my inspiration and after so many knitting conversations, she had never uttered the word “brioche. “ Yet the flair, the swirl as I twirled in my skirt , modelling it for my sister, father and wonderful mother could only have been produced by that brioche stitch.

Yet I wondered again because the brioche line is actually produced by two rows, coalescing into one double and we would not have had enough money for double quantities of wool. We barely could afford wool for even one sweater now and again. I knew she had bought the angora previously on sale, her face full of satisfied delight to be able to purchase an extravagance at a reasonable price, stashing several balls for matching mitts and hats for my cousins. Every Chanukah, she would compose wondrous knitted gifts that I coveted, never thinking something storebought to be lovelier. In deed, my mother’s rapt attention to detail rivalled the best.These were givens, truths I knew as I watched her shop, deliberate on the recipients and pace herself so to be able to manage presents for the cousins. How often she might return to a store, patiently waiting till the price of yarn was reduced, now deemed out of fashion, or unsaleable. She did not complain, only surveyed the lots carefully, her eye gliding over remnants or those yarns specially priced for quick sales. These were ecological lessons taught here, I now surmised, on frugality, economy, wish versus want, art and craft, planning and procedure.
These thoughts, as well as, sitting beside her, learning how to knit myself at six or so flooded my mind. Neither of my girls ever learned how to knit although I have taught my grandsons who begged to model my twisted stitches, even at ages five and eight. I think of my mother passing the tradition from me to them. And their fascination as their first attempts at scarves grew with great sighs of achievement.

I long for her person, now dead seven years, the warmth, the tutelage, the grace and giving.But what had spurred my reverie was the brioche stitch so I brought my thoughts back to the shawl overflowing my hands. Again I faced a conundrum, wondering if she had in deed created that huge circular skirt in plain and pearl, or had she actually used the brioche stitch.

I suppose the query of stitches matters little; it is the memory of sitting close, feeling loved as something is created together, and hoping one day , that a treasured piece will elicit a reminiscence as this shawl has for me.

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